If you remember one of Harry Sittler’s earliest Modifieds or you see a picture of it – you will see the words Mud, Sweat and Gears written across the back of it. The St. Catharines veteran driver is one of Merrittville Speedway’s unsung heroes with a career spanning 5 decades and like so many put a lot of Blood, Sweat and Tears into the sport they loved so much.
If it weren’t for friend Cecil Kerr who introduced him to the sport – Harry Sittler might not have raced in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000nds. Eventually becoming a mechanic by day for 38 years until his recent retirement – his real passion became working on race cars by night and of course driving them.
While living in Queenston at the time, Harry’s dad Andrew would flat tow Harry’s first cars to rural Thorold to compete in the Jalopy Division starting in 1961. As the Jalopies became Late Models, Sittler would follow the progression still in a full fendered car until 1974 and his first year in the Modified Division driving for car owner Ray Stevens and working at his Service Station during the day.
Harry and Ray became close friends from then on and would team up several times. In the late 70’s, Ray’s son Brian would move into the Modified Division from Late Models. With Harry seeing that Ray would need to focus on Brian’s development, Harry would now be in a car for owners Wilf and Elsie Fiegel until Harry would purchase his first Modified from the Stevens’ – a former Olsen Chassis raced by Brian.
Harry quickly got a rude introduction to being a car owner as an incident between himself, Davey Moore and Mark Shadwell found Harry upside down on his roof.
Back in the day as much as it is today, sponsorship of a race car can help a driver and his team so much. Harry would make contact with Pete Cosco in regards to putting Cosco Haulage on his race car. It was a call that would see the now owner of Humberstone Speedway get his start in racing.
Sponsorship led to Pete and his wife Linda becoming car owners in a career that has seen them field or sponsor cars including Harry, Ron Cosco, Curt and the late Trevor Wilkens, Don and Jeff McGinnis and others including Bobcat of Hamilton 358 Modified Driver Chris Steele and the Peters Excavating Late Model for Adam Ferri today.
From the Cosco era Harry would move to a Colin Slade owned car before once again driving for himself in the early 90’s. An early season accident in 1992 at Ransomville Speedway left Harry injured and he spent much of the summer recuperating.
Most would have not gotten back behind the wheel of a race car but later that summer while he was still in a wheelchair – he had a new race car waiting in the garage. Race Teams and Race Fans are a caring family. The fans at Ransomville and Merrittville took up a collection and the proceeds were enough to get him back on track when he was ready.
One of his career highlights came three years after that almost career ending wreck at Ransomville with a June win redemption surely – also ending a 13 year drought at the Big R. Or maybe it was a win here at Merrittville in his 37H that was owned by the Western New York McCreary Tire Dealer at the time H&H Speed and Auto.
“As always … you have to do what you have to do to win,” remembers Harry’s son Andrew, “it was imperative that Dad stand in front of the right rear … we had to hide that it was an M&H Tire!”
The only comment on that comes from today – lol! There was no Hoosier or any kind of tire rule back then.
Or was it in 1990 at Merrittville about the time the switch was made to the 358 Small Block engines from Big Blocks?
When the Syracuse Qualifier 90 lap event was in the books that season – Harry was the highest finishing Merrittville Small Block and would go to the Moody Mile that October. If you have ever been to the October Classic and remember the 1978 Edition getting delayed until April you might remember one of the most horrific backstretch crashes in the race’s history. If not - look for some photos. Harry was in that field but safely behind the carnage of twisted metal and shattered dreams. Joe Marotta probably called that event and it was him that gave Harry the ‘Kooky Canook’ nickname from when he was a regular at the Weedsport now Cayuga County Fair Speedway.
While running at Ransomville and Merrittville Speedways regularly, Harry and Ray would travel to wherever there was a race. Away from the track, Harry’s mechanic duties began at the old Canadian Tire on Riordon Street in St. Catharines. They didn’t want him racing so one Friday he packed up all his tools and quit. “I remember mom trying to get Dad going off to work the next Monday morning,” reflected Andrew, “all Dad said was Friday was my last day.”
After 8 years at that location, Harry would ‘transfer’ to the Glendale Avenue Canadian Tire where he spent 30 years and that location and others would embrace his racing – Canadian Tire logos would soon be on Harry’s cars. Harry’s car owners over the years also included Bill Morden and as his career wound down – somehow his son Andrew who today has Ken Cosgrove in the familiar #37 after Wayne Conn and Boyd MacTavish. Andrew also spent time behind the wheel of a race car – starting out in the Street Stock Division sharing a car with former Merrittville Champion Pat McGrath before trying a Modified Lite and Modified himself.
Harry and Linda Sittler had 4 children with Andrew having two older sisters Tammy and Patti and Jodi who is a year younger than him. The Sittlers and Stevens were so close that Andrew while named after his grandfather has as a middle name Raymond while Jodi’s is Lee after Ray’s widow. While the girls were always fans – Andrew has made quite a name for himself in the sport as well.
While Andrew would crew for his dad when he was old enough … crew over the years for Harry were Jeff Timlock, Don Jeffries who still helps Pete Cosco today, his brother in law Rocky Outhwaite and Carl Game. “Dad stops into our shop all the time,” says Andrew, “he likes to have his say with the car … what he sees and what he thinks it needs … and you know – most times he’s right!”
While he concentrated on his own career Harry was always willing to help anyone. He was responsible for getting former drivers Harley Turner and Carl Game into the sport. So much that as a team at one point with Harley in the Mini Stocks, Carl in the Late Models and Harry in the Modifieds … the only number that would work in all three divisions was #37. A number that would stick with Harry throughout his almost 45 years as a driver.
Harry was honored in the early 90’s with an Achievement Award from the FOAR Score Fan Club but tonight it’s the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee’s turn to welcome Harry Sittler to the L. St. Amand Enterprises Wall of Fame!